Somebody was snoring.
Startled out of a deep sleep, Nigel realized he was snoring. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he looked around and the truth sunk in. He was asleep on Sydney’s sofa, his fingers still wrapped around the cryptic stone disk. Someone – presumably Sydney – had drawn a soft bronze chenille blanket over him and tucked a feather-stuffed pillow beneath his head.
It took a moment for him to remember that they’d been working two days and two nights straight trying to translate the enigmatic glyphs. The remarkable result was not three different messages, as they’d first believed. It was three parts of a single message, each segment literally and figuratively interlocked with the next.
"Morning." Sydney shuffled in, yawning. She wore soft pink silk pajamas and a loose robe. "Breakfast?" Her toenails, Nigel noticed, were painted in the same pale pink as her robe.
Despite the fact that there was nothing overtly revealing about her ensemble, Nigel felt himself blush from head to toe. When he sat up and realized he wasn’t wearing a shirt, he clutched the fuzzy blanket against his chest, now even more self-conscious. "What?" he asked, too flustered to respond coherently.
"Do you want some breakfast?" his boss repeated, amusement glittering in her brown eyes. "I think I’ve got the stuff for pancakes."
His stomach grumbled loudly, much to Nigel’s chagrin.
Sydney laughed. "I think that means yes. Give me a few minutes."
The instant she disappeared into the kitchen, Nigel fumbled around until he found his tee shirt. He yanked the plain white garment over his head. In his haste, though, he twisted the fabric so it effectively imprisoned him. He froze when Sydney’s voice sounded just a few feet away.
"Need a hand?"
"No, I’m fine, thank you." Adding to his humiliation, the cotton was mashed against his mouth and his words were barely intelligible.
She ignored his protest and plucked at the material, untangling him and pulling the jersey down over his shoulders. "So what have we got?" she asked absently. "The opaque version says, Dancing by fire’s embers, wrapped in shadows and promise…"
"Nearly as I can figure, the sunlight version is next," he murmured as she scooted in next to him. He was conscious of her hand on his shoulder, even while his mind returned to the real reason he was here. "It says, Maiden Hope rises with the dawn." He leaned forward to gather his notes at the same time Sydney reached for the crystal medallion. The result was something akin to an embrace, and this time he turned beet-red.
They’d been in closer situations before, but there was just something about sitting in her proximity in her living room, with her in her pajamas…
Guilty without quite knowing why, he automatically looked up at her. It was a small comfort to realize she was similarly affected.
Go to Part Four.